WOODBURY — Just when people had all but given up hope on the G.G. Green block building, in a surprising turn of events, city council has announced a tentative agreement with the RPM Development Group to sweep in and save the structure from anticipated demolition.
After a closed-session following Wednesday night’s regular council meeting, Councilman William H. Fleming announced the Montclair-based company had agreed to stabilize the long-neglected and run-down South Broad Street structure for redevelopment into a mixed-use site.
According to Fleming, the agreement will be further negotiated over the next 60 days. Future discussions will include off-site parking and the type of housing that will be put in place on the second and third floors.
Woodbury Economic Development Director Ronda Abbruzzese said the housing, which would be 20 percent affordable and 80 percent at fair market pricing, would likely be geared towards veterans and senior citizens.
The first floor would be allocated for commercial usage.
Despite prior letdowns with other developers who had plans for the building, Abbruzzese said RPM was “very proactive” and the outcome is very promising. She said the initial plans also coincide with the city’s redevelopment plan like a glove.
“Most of us had long since given up hope on (the building). It was on the course for demolition,” Fleming said. “At this point, we have a new light at the end of the tunnel.”
As of Thursday, the game plan includes the city purchasing the Broad Street property from current owner, Dick Hill, for a token sum of $1 for the transfer of ownership.
Though the property was last determined to have more than $300,000 in liens, the city has made an agreement to pay about $50,000 to two of the property’s lien holders, according to Woodbury Deputy Administrator Robert Law; not a bad deal considering the demolition — which would’ve been the city’s responsibility — would’ve cost upwards of $1 million.
An elated Mayor Ron Riskie — who attributed much of the new development to Abbruzzese’s efforts — said he expects the official transfer of real estate to take place in January.
Resolutions concerning the acquisition of the property and lien agreements were passed by the end of the meeting and a Memorandum of Understanding was in place for all involved parties.
“We’re in a much better position at this time,” said Fleming, referring to the impending demolition debacle, which most thought was inevitable. “And we’re all going into this with our eyes wide open.”
It wasn’t always so clean cut for city officials, however, having to juggle concern for public safety and preserving the historic value within the former opera house.
As recently as October, council authorized City Engineer Ted Wilkinson to prepare estimates for how much it could cost to demolish the dilapidated and long-abandoned structure.
After ongoing deliberation and multiple analyses of the structure, the state Department of Environmental Protection Office of Historic Preservation even granted the city permission to raze the 130-year-old historic landmark.
Because the city was lacking the capital to fathom stabilizing the amount of structural damage in the building, demolition seemed to become the only course of action, which was going to be a tough price to pay, too.
Though the building was immediately declared unsafe following the unexpected earthquake in August and the pieces of brick that fell to the ground, many believed there was still a way to salvage the site.
“I am absolutely thrilled to hear this,” said Nora Leary of Woodbury’s Historic Preservation Commission. “I knew that the city could come up with a solution for this building. This is a win for the city.”
Even Scott Drake, great, great grandson of Col. George G. Green, the building’s namesake, had apparently come to grips with building’s non-existent future until Thursday morning.
“I got some good Christmas presents this year, but this is pretty great,” Drake said upon hearing the news. “This is a great outcome. This is what I’ve been hoping for.”